In Our View: Save Fund for Land, Water

By:  The Columbian Editorial Board
Source: The Columbian

For more than 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to preserve, protect and enhance natural areas that belong to all Americans — at no expense to taxpayers. 

Now, for the second time in three years, it faces extinction. The fund is set to expire Sept. 30, and bills in the U.S. House and Senate have been slow to gain traction. Supporters of the fund received some good news Thursday when a House committee approved a bill that would permanently reauthorize the legislation, but the deadline is drawing near. We hope that Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, will help push that reauthorization through Congress. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964 under legislation introduced by Washington Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, who said: “I would like to remind you that it is mostly to the open areas that 90 percent of all Americans go each year, seeking refreshment of body and spirit. These are the places they go to hunt, fish, camp, picnic, swim, for boating or driving pleasure, or perhaps simply for relaxation and solitude.” 

For five decades, the fund routinely was reauthorized with bipartisan support. But conservative opposition has grown in recent years, driven by hostility to the notion of public lands. In 2015, reauthorization lapsed, but the fund eventually was renewed for three years. 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is supported entirely through royalties paid by oil and gas corporations for offshore leases. As Wilderness.org explains, it is “based on a simple idea: When you deplete the earth’s finite natural resources, some of the proceeds should pay to strengthen conservation.” During the fund’s existence, it has been used to purchase and preserve public land and water, protecting some 7 million acres and providing more than $16 billion for projects in all 50 states. 

In Washington, more than $675 million has been invested in outdoor spaces. In recent years, that has contributed to the creation of Fallen Leaf Lake Park near Camas and to conservation efforts near Mount St. Helens. In the case of Fallen Leaf Lake Park, the project demonstrated how little-used natural areas can be made to provide recreation opportunities.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund adheres to the belief that some of this nation’s natural wonder should be preserved for all to enjoy and share. It is an egalitarian ideal that speaks to the very foundation of the United States and is embraced by many members of both parties in Congress. 

And still, Herrera Beutler is noticeably absent from the bipartisan list of co-sponsors of H.R. 502, which would permanently reauthorize the fund. The House bill has 235 co-sponsors, including every Democratic member of the Washington delegation plus Republican Dave Reichert. On the Senate side, the bill was introduced by Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and counts Sen. Patty Murray among 47 co-sponsors that include six Republicans. 

Herrera Beutler has a lifetime rating of 9 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, a level that should be anathema to voters from environmentally conscious Southwest Washington. At an event last week lauding the work of the Columbia Land Trust to preserve 20,000 acres of forest near Mount St. Helens, Herrera Beutler said, “This is a positive example to the rest of the country — quite frankly, a tremendous example.” 

It is, indeed. Herrera Beutler should set another tremendous example by working to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.